St. Mary’s cracks top 25

Gonzaga has company in the Top 25.

After being the West Coast Conference’s lone representative in The Associated Press’ college basketball poll for the past decade, Gonzaga has another league member in the rankings as Saint Mary’s, Calif. moved in at No. 24 yesterday.

The Gaels (7-0) were last in the Top 25 for the final three weeks in the 1988-89 season. With Gonzaga at No. 19, the WCC has two ranked teams for the first time since the beginning of the 1973-74 season.

“That’s the last time two of them were ranked? That’s unbelievable. That’s surprising. That’s great for our league,” seventh-year Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said yesterday. “It’s nice. It’s good for our program, good for our league. It’s a positive reward for a month in the season. It doesn’t matter for the long-term, but at this point in the season it shows our guys are playing well.”

North Carolina was No. 1 as it has been since the preseason poll, and the top six teams held their places from last week. The only newcomer was Saint Mary’s, which enters the rankings off a 69-64 victory over San Diego State on Saturday in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim.

The Gaels’ big win this season was a 99-87 victory over Oregon on Nov. 20 and they beat Seton Hall 85-70 in a matchup of unbeaten teams on Dec. 1.

“We knew coming into it if we were capable of doing what we’re doing, this was just part of the plan and it would take care of itself,” guard Todd Golden said. “This is definitely not the ultimate goal but it’s nice in the meantime. I thought with as close as we were after the Seton Hall win, if we were able to go down and get that win against San Diego State it would be enough.”

North Carolina (8-0), which beat Penn 106-71 in its only game last week, received 48 first-place votes and 1,772 points from the 72-member national media panel.

Memphis (7-0), which beat Southern California 62-58 in overtime last week, was No. 1 on 19 ballots and had 1,708 points.

Big 12 members Kansas (9-0) and Texas (9-0) each received two first-place votes in holding third and fourth, while Georgetown (7-0), which got the only other first-place vote, stayed fifth.

Duke was sixth, while Washington State and UCLA were seventh and eighth, exchanging places from last week. Michigan State and Marquette rounded out the top 10.

Pittsburgh moved up one spot to 11th and was followed by Tennessee, Indiana, Texas A’M, Clemson, Oregon, Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga and Vanderbilt.

The last five ranked teams were Arizona, Louisville, Villanova, Saint Mary’s and BYU.

Southern Cal (6-3), which lost consecutive close games to Kansas and Memphis, dropped out from 24th after a two-week run in the poll.